11th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry War Diary January 1941

From 70 Brigade
Jump to: navigation, search

1st January 1941 Alafoss

The Medical Officer, Lt P. Kelly, made a forced journey through a blizzard to attend to 3133892 Pte McEwan J.S. of D Company, who was found in a collapsed condition in bed at Pingvellir after a rum ration. Private McEwan was, however, found to be dead on the Medical Officer’s arrival. As the rum ration was by no means excessive, it can only be speculated that Private McEwan had suffered some sort of reaction to the alcohol - though full details of his death are not available as far as is known. Some additional information may lie within his Service Record.

2nd January 1941

An accident during the unloading of a Light Machine Gun after an Anti-Aircraft practice resulted in the deaths of 4449482 Cpl Woods N. of C Company and 3133977 Pte Houston G.D. also of C Company.

4th January 1941

The three soldiers were buried in Reykjavik civil cemetery with war time military honours.

The cemetery is at FOSSVOGUR CEMETERY and holds a considerable number of allied casualties, Naval, Army and Air Force who died, almost all as a result of accidents, during the occupation of Iceland.

The following changes in Officer command were made:-

Lieut. T. Cairns to command A Company vice Captain D.L. Morris.

Captain D.L. Morris to command E Company.

Captain C.A. Smallwood transferred to C Company.

2/Lt R.S. Dyson transferred to A Company.

2/Lt J.A. Cantley transferred to A Company.

2/Lt P.A. Johnson took over the duties of Weapon Training Officer and Cadre Officer.

5th January 1941

The Battalion was employed on road construction duties during a fortnight’s strike of Icelandic labourers.

7th January 1941

An Officers’ TEWT on a Cloth Model took place on the role of the Battalion in KEFLAVIK. Details of the exercise were set out in Appendix A – a copy of which is attached to the War Diary – for details see below.

12th January 1941

The issue of a Memorandum on the Infantry Battalion took place. This embodied all the ideas and experience of the HQ staff since the re-formation of the Battalion after France. Details are set out in Appendix B attached to the War Diary – for details see below.

Captains C.D. Hamilton and C.A. Smallwood attended the second Force Tactical School. Captain W.B. Kirkup assumed the duties of Adjutant in Captain Hamilton’s absence.

2/Lt I.G. Sopwith left for the U.K. on a Course of Signal Instruction at CATTERICK.

The Commanding Officer asked each Company to nominate an Officer to prepare a sand model scheme for the Company NCOs and he attended each exercise.

22nd January 1941

A demonstration of Field Firing was given on the Battalion Range and orders were issued for further Field Firing.

30th January 1941

The 2nd in Command and Assistant Adjutant attended a Brigade Exercise on the landing at SUVLA BAY (in the Gallipoli Campaign in World War One). This was afterwards repeated to Companies.

The weather during January was cold, but dry and without snow. There were no storms.

Appendices attached to the January 1941 War Diary.

Appendix A – Officers’ TEWT (Tactical Exercise Without Troops).

The note, addressed to all Company Commanders, instructed that all available Officers would attend this TEWT. Officers in charge of Working Parties were to take their men to their duties and then leave them under the command of Platoon Sergeants. The Orderly Officer was to stay in Camp and act for the Adjutant, while all other Officers were to bring notepads, protractors, writing materials etc.

The TEWT was focussed on KEFLAVIK and Company Commanders only were given the Order of March of each Company and were asked to consider the move to Hafnafjordur, taking account of the ground as known. Each Company Commander was to be prepared to present a logical appreciation of the situation and ideas on the probable further employment of the unit.

The exercise scenario – described on the third page – envisaged the invasion warnings being given, followed by news that a landing had taken place on the KEFLAVIK Peninsula.

The enemy were employing fifth columnists who had landed the previous day and requisitioned transport. The line had been cut to the harbour watching post at KEFLAVIK and RAF reconnaissance had reported troop landing aircraft landing on the Peninsula – which they had engaged both in the air and on the ground.

The Battalion, with the support of a troop of Field Artillery, were tasked with dislodging the enemy from the Peninsula and driving him into the sea. The Company Commander was to meet the CO at the high ground above the road block to the West of the town and was to bring a Section of Carriers and two Despatch Riders with him. Further orders would then be issued.

The Company had been at ten minutes notice to move since 06:00 hours that morning, had eaten breakfast and were carrying a day’s hard rations with a second day’s supplies in Company transport. Dinner was being prepared, water bottles were full with backup supplies in small containers. All other arrangements were as per Operation Order No 5 – issued earlier.

The road block on the route to KEFLAVIK and certain other defences were manned by troops of 147th Brigade.

Appendix B – Higher Establishment of an Infantry Battalion.

This is a lengthy and fairly complicated document setting out the form of organisation for an Infantry Battalion, and the duties of the key personnel. Officers were urged to make themselves familiar with the workings of Battalion HQ and it was stressed that the information did not just apply to Iceland.

War Establishments were varied over time and quite often reflected changes in the arrangements for support within the Battalion – especially the Mortar, Anti-Aircraft and Anti-Tank roles. At this stage the Battalion was still using the 0.5” Boys Anti-Tank Rifle, which was a powerful weapon in trained hands against softskin trucks, or even lightly armoured vehicles, but had proved limited against German Panzers.

The document had eleven separate sections as follows:-

A - The Establishment of an Infantry Battalion.

B – Transport organisation.

C – Weapons of the Battalion.

D – Composition of Battalion HQ.

E – Duties of each component.

F – Battle procedures for establishing HQ.

G – The layout of HQ.

H – Routine.

I – Battalion HQ on the move.

J – Battle procedure.

K – Extracts from Brigade Standing Orders.

Some details from each Section are given below:-

A – The strengthening had taken place in the HQ Company with expansion of Anti-Aircraft, Mortar and Carrier Platoons.

Ten Captains were allowed per Battalion, of which 3 might be Majors.

53 Corporals were allowed – including 10 Lance Sergeants.

Of the 650 Privates, 40 could be Paid Lance-Corporals.

1st Reinforcements included; 7 Officers, one Warrant Officer Class II, one Orderly Room Sergeant, five Sergeants, 6 Corporals and 134 Privates.

The total Battalion strength was to be 31 Officers and 816 Other Ranks.

Attached ranks were to be; Padre, Medical Officer, Batman/driver, and from the RAOC, one Armourer, 3 Fitters and 1 Shoemaker.

The document incorporated an organisation chart showing the strength of each sub-unit, and its armament.

Each of the four Rifle Companies had three Platoons, each of which had three Sections – consisting of a Corporal, ten men and a Light Machine Gun. The Platoon HQ included a 2” Mortar and Crew and an Anti-Tank Rifle.

At Company HQ level there was the Company Sergeant Major and the Quartermaster Sergeant, plus Batmen, Orderlies and a Corporal Mechanic (probably still at that stage an infantryman).

HQ Company incorporated six Platoons; Signals, Anti-Aircraft (using twin Bren Guns), Mortars (including six mortar teams), Carriers – with four Sections each of three Carriers plus a Section of motorcyclists and combination riders.

Battalion HQ was home for the RSM, Orderly Room Sergeant, Intelligence Officer and his staff, Provost Sergeant and his Regimental Police, Clerks, Batmen and a Sergeant, Medical Orderly and 20 Stretcher bearers.

B – the summary of the Battalion’s transport came to; 13 30cwt lorries, 39 15cwt trucks, 8 8cwt Pick-Up trucks, 4 Motorcycle combinations, 28 solo motorcycles, 35 bicycles, 14 Carriers, the CO's car and a four seater 4wd car each for the Chaplain and the Intelligence Officer.

An Appendix to this Section gave the details of the personnel and stores to be carried in each of the vehicles.

C – weapons. Each Rifle Company had; 124 rifles and bayonets (10 in Company HQ and 38 in each Platoon) with 50 rounds carried per man, 9 Bren Light Machine Guns with 26 magazines per gun containing 500 rounds and 1000 additional rounds per gun, 5 Officers carried revolvers with 12 rounds each, three Anti-Tank Rifles with eight magazines each and 200 rounds per gun, 3 2” Mortars – one per Platoon, with 27 High Explosive and 9 smoke bombs per mortar, 36 Hand Grenades (12 per Platoon), four signalling pistols with coloured flares and one Thompson sub-machine gun per Section – usually carried by the Corporal Section Commander.

The future Battalion establishment of weapons envisaged; 6 3” Mortars, each with 75 high explosive and 45 smoke bombs, 14 Carriers each with a Bren Gun with 1500 rounds (each Carrier Section leader also had a 2” Mortar and an Anti-Tank Rifle in his Carrier), 4 twin Bren Guns on Motley mountings in the Anti-Aircraft Platoon with 3,000 rounds per gun, and there were also Anti-Tank Rifles allocated to No 1 and No 6 Platoons within HQ Company. Details were also given of the scale of ammunition reserve.

D – Battalion HQ. The composition of HQ varied depending on whether there was a situation of static warfare or mobile operations – a degree of elasticity in the organisation was therefore required.

Battalion HQ always consisted of; the CO, Adjutant, RSM, Signals Officer and usually six signallers including Despatch Riders, Intelligence Officer and the Intelligence Section, and a Sergeant Clerk plus one junior clerk.

In a more static situation, the HQ is divided into A and B Echelons.

A is the fighting Echelon and contains the personnel to protect and feed the HQ staff.

B Echelon is the administrative component with Quartermaster stores, rations, fuel, ammunition, oil etc.

The A Echelon in these circumstances includes, two Anti-Aircraft crews, the Pioneers, Regimental Police, Sanitary Section, two Cooks, Officers’ Mess waiter and Cook, Medical Officer and his orderly and a Sergeant and the stretcher bearers.

The B Echelon contains the remainder of HQ Company, less the Mortars and Carrier Platoons which are often attached to the Rifle Companies, the other two Anti-Aircraft crews and all Rifle Company 30 cwt Cook and Rations vehicles with the Company Quartermaster Sergeants.

If a tactical move is underway, the Battalion will be deployed so as to ensure protection while being able to react to changing events.

The forward body would consist of two Sections from the Carrier Platoon plus a Platoon from the forward Company.

The second Group contains the rest of the forward Company, the Royal Artillery Forward Observation Officer (if present), the Regimental Police, an Anti-Aircraft Section and the Mortar Platoon.

The Command Group comes next, consisting of Advanced Battalion HQ plus a Carrier Section, the following Company Commanders and the Commander of any supporting Artillery.

The Support Group includes the three other Companies, a troop of Artillery, the remaining Battalion HQ personnel and the Pioneers.

B Echelon brings up the rear – stretching perhaps over two miles of road.

E – duties. The roles of each of the key personnel are described and were listed in this Section with a note of the relevant Army Handbooks and Training Manuals.

F – Battle procedure and establishing Battalion HQ. This appendix sets out the need for flexibility but states the principles to be taken into account when setting up the HQ in the field. Guidelines on the various stages to be followed are set out alongside the roles of key individuals. After broad site selection by the CO – often from the map – the detailed location is decided by the Signals Officer, after personal reconnaissance. The detailed layout is in the hands of the RSM who briefs the commander of the Protection Platoon in respect of the defence of the HQ, and the location of alarm posts. Brigade HQ will be briefed once details are settled.

G – the layout of HQ. This paper covers where each part of the HQ should be located for convenience and efficient operation. A key element is the importance of securing an area for the CO and his immediate staff which would allow them to work undisturbed, so as to assist concentration. Traffic circuits and the relationships between the various components had to be allowed for. Guidance on vehicle parking and dispersal were included to minimise interference from enemy aircraft. It was stressed that every man in HQ had a battle position, and a task, as HQ might find itself having to fight.

H – routine. This section emphasised the importance of regular routines and a clear knowledge of tasks and responsibilities by each man in the HQ. The RSM, for example, handled "Q" details such as ammunition requests and ensuring resupply, and was responsible to the Adjutant for seeing that was done efficiently. Routing of messages to ensure that important information was filtered so that it reached the Adjutant and CO and was not cluttered with minor administrative matters was essential.

I – HQ on the move. While hard and fast rules were impossible to enforce, given the degree of flexibility implied, it was necessary for communication capacity to be available both at the new location, and at the former location until it closed. Timings and location details had to be made available to higher formations, and to sub-units, efficiently.

J – Battle procedure. The principles had been covered in earlier documents attached to the War Diary but the information and guidance was now consolidated into this paper. This, essentially, allowed a unit to make the earlier stages of a move while its Commander was receiving orders and task instructions from higher command. Those principles applied whatever level was concerned – Battalion, Company or Platoon in this instance. The aim was reducing the time needed to get into position, ready for the task, and allowing subordinates to use their knowledge and skills to get moves underway, while awaiting detailed orders. This also involved the relationship with supporting arms and units, who also needed to make preparations for changing locations and readying themselves for the next stage of operations.

As mentioned previously, this also demanded reliable and quick-thinking orderlies, who could accurately transmit their commander’s instruction and ensure they were carried out. K – Brigade Standing Orders. A selection of extracts from Brigade Standing Orders were included in this paper – particularly useful as the Brigade document itself has not yet been traced. Many of these extracts concerned communications and movement preparations.

Appendix C – Training Memorandum No 3 – 22nd January 1941.

This appendix basically allocated range availability over the forthcoming weeks, but also developed earlier Memoranda on five topics:-

The use of the Bren Gun as an element of the Rifle Section was to be studied in exercises, given the larger size of the new Section – Corporal, Lance-Corporal and nine men. It became usual for the Bren Group to be commanded by the Lance-Corporal and for them to move to a flank to provide what might now be termed “overwatch” fire support to cover the Rifle Group in the Assault – “shooting-in” their comrades on to an enemy position. The Bren Gun Numbers 1 and 2 might be protected by a rifleman.

The Anti-Tank Rifle was to be included within Field Firing Exercises, with four men in each Platoon trained to use the weapon. It will be recalled that in the retreat to Dunkirk, hardly any of the troops in the Brigade had ever fired one of these weapons.

Five rounds of illuminating cartridges were available for training for each Verey Pistol issued – Battalion HQ was to be informed if such use was to take place, given that these were used for signalling.

As for the 3” Mortar, 25 rounds were available for training – arrangements to do so to be made by the Officer commanding the Mortar Platoon with whichever Company Commander had the range allocated at the appropriate time.

The Quartermaster was to arrange for practice in loading B Echelon vehicles to be included in training programmes.

To contact the author by e-mail with any queries, or to send information - click here.